Israel-UAE: A short haul across Silicon Beach

(Based on a photo by Sarah Tuttle Singer)

Ancient maps portrayed the Middle East as the center of the world. For decades, this natural land bridge between Europe and Asia, between East and West, had been broken

I just returned from what I hope will be my last long-haul trip from Israel to the United Arab Emirates. Tel Aviv and Dubai are only three hours apart, but until direct non-stop commercial flights commence in January, it can be a grueling 20-hour round trip like the one I was just forced to endure via Zurich, Frankfurt or any number of random waypoints with lengthy and painful layovers, especially during this time of Covid-19.

From January there are scheduled to be as many as 112 direct flights each week between Israel and the UAE, with Etihad, Emirates, El Al, Arkia and Israir competing for the hordes of Israeli and Emirati passengers eager to sample the delights of each other’s previously forbidden destination. The impact of this historic breakthrough cannot be overstated.

After days of productive meetings with Emiratis last week, I predicted in an interview with CNBC that trade between Israel and the UAE would soon hit $10 billion. Just in case I had any doubts, that same day the US, Israel and the UAE announced the joint $3 billion Abraham Fund to invest in trilateral projects. My new Emirati partner, the respected investor Sabah al-Binali, warned me I was mistaken with my $10 billion guess. “You actually missed a zero,” he said. “I will bet that it will ultimately be more like a $100 billion.”

The transformative effect of the Abraham Accords is only now becoming clear.

Ancient maps portrayed the Middle East as the center of the world. For decades, this natural land bridge between Europe and Asia, between East and West, had been broken. Wrecked by war and disrupted by dictators, the ancient Silk and Spice Route between East and West that served for centuries as the world’s thoroughfare had been blocked for decades by a Sand Shutter, barred by politics and a culture of distrust.

The partnership between the entrepreneurial, forward-looking economies of Israel and the UAE will create Silicon Beach – a single Middle East innovation hub to rival the technology centers of the U.S. and Asia spanning from the sands of Tel Aviv to the shores of the Gulf. In an instant, the physical and psychological distance between Abu Dhabi and Jerusalem has been transformed from a long-haul expedition between estranged capitals to a short-haul hop to the other friendly end of Silicon Beach.

Even more malignant than the Iron Curtain that divided Europe for 30 years, the Sand Shutter that cut through the heart of the ancient world lasted more than twice as long, separating the children of Abraham and threatening the peace of the planet. The fall of the Berlin Wall changed Europe. The opening of the Sand Shutter will change the world.

Until now, Israel was in the Mideast region, but not really part of the Mideast. That has already begun to change. My visit to Dubai occurred in a cloud of Hebrew – not from my colleagues, but from the dozens of Israelis I encountered in hotels and restaurants already arriving in their hundreds, despite the still circuitous route. I can only imagine the scene once those 112 flights take to the air each week.

The impact will not be confined to our two countries and is already spreading across the region. Normalization between Israel and the UAE was swiftly followed by Bahrain and Sudan. More Middle Eastern and North African nations are sure to follow.

The creation of a Silicon Superhighway from the Arabian Gulf to the Mediterranean will be felt worldwide. At an online Japanese trade conference I was asked by a government official to explain the impact of the Abraham Accord on Japanese business. Multinationals and governments are already assessing the impact of shipping goods from the Gulf to Israel and onwards via the Mediterranean.

While I was in Dubai, my colleagues were meeting with Sultan Sulayem, the CEO of Dubai Ports World, who was already in Israel, discussing plans to transport goods and oil overland to Israel and on to Europe. Oil may soon flow once again from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean through a pipeline first built during the Israeli-Iranian alliance that disappeared with the rise of the Ayatollahs. People around the world are looking at these developments and they see the vast potential.

At this historic moment, we look forward with hope and back with pride. Israelis are conscious that their dreams are built on the achievements of the pioneering generations that built the country, survived the Holocaust, created the modern State of Israel, and survived countless wars that threatened its very existence. Emiratis look at the global business, trade and tourism beacon carved from the desert in a few short years of farsighted entrepreneurial development and exceptional stewardship by their leaders.

My favorite moment last week came when I was sitting with the new generation of Emirati 30-something business leaders, the children of those who built the country. One of them pointed to a tower soaring above the skyline. “That’s my Dad’s building,” he said, with pride. We then continued our intense talk about artificial intelligence, digital health, mobility and food tech – and planned how we could build tremendous cutting-edge startups together.

The previous generations of Israelis and Emiratis both achieved their separate dreams. Now it’s the turn of this generation to dream big, together, and to start making these new joint dreams come true.

About the Author
Jonathan Medved is the founder and CEO of OurCrowd, the world’s leading global equity crowdfunding platform. Medved is a serial entrepreneur and investor, according to the Washington Post “one of Israel’s leading high tech venture capitalists.” In 2015 Medved was named one of the “50 most influential Jews.” He invested in almost 200 startups, helping to bring 15 of them to values in excess of $100M. Exits include: Shopping.com (acquired by Ebay), Compugen (Nasdaq: CGEN), Answers.com (Nasdaq: ANSW, acquired by Summit), Cyota (acquired by RSA/CA), Finjan (Nasdaq: FNJN), Mobile Access (acquired by Corning), Tradeum (acquired by VerticalNet), Native Networks (acquired by Alcatel), Broadlight (acquired by Broadcom), Xacct (acquired by Amdocs), Business Layers (acquired by CA), Xtellus (acquired by Oclaro), and Digital Fuel (acquired by VMWare). Between 2006-2012, Medved was the co-founder and CEO of Vringo and led the company to a successful IPO on the NYSE. Medved is a frequent guest and commentator on U.S. and Global TV: PBS, CNN, CNBC, BNN, Bloomberg, CBN, CBC, BBC, ReutersTV, CCTV.
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